MS on Vista’s “Challenges”

At this point I doubt there is any new information available that would dissuade people from the notion that Vista was one very screwed up launch, so I guess Microsoft’s PR strategy momentarily shifted to stating the obvious.

The answers we got during this mid-June background conversation were brutally honest: Our source, a high-ranking Windows product manager, conceded that Microsoft botched the Vista launch. He added that the company’s biggest concern wasn’t the OS but rather the eroded faith in Microsoft’s flagship product among users of all types and experience levels.

[From Exclusive Interview: Microsoft Admits What Went Wrong with Vista, and How They Fixed It]

I don’t think Vista is that bad or fatally flawed, in fact once it’s working people seem to be okay with it. But that’s the problem, you should get more for your money than simply not being annoyed anymore… but the real problem is probably that Vista is the desktop equivalent of fighting the last war. The referenced “eroded faith in Microsoft” cuts to the very core of what Microsoft has to maintain at all costs, trust.

Apple successfully shifted the debate to “the OS is a commodity, it’s everything on top of the OS that matters” and Microsoft has never been prone to shipping useful or even tolerable applications with their OS releases. They prefer to preserve that option for upselling you a separate package later. The notion of utility has shifted from being able to faithfully support other people’s apps to value that I get out of the box and on this latter point Microsoft is far far behind Apple.

Worse for Microsoft is that their distribution strategy weakens their customer advocacy position by allowing PC manufacturers to crapify the desktop of your new machine, further adding to bloat and annoyance.

The folks in Redmond will get this sorted out and in the end it could be the catalyst that leads to major strategy shifts for the desktop business unit. As has been noted many times throughout the history of this company, they are always at their best when they have something to target.

Ironically, while Microsoft diligently works to sort itself out it may be that Apple is just passing the apex of it’s meteoric rise of recent years. MobileMe has been an acknowledged black eye, the iPhone 3G has been plagued by issues related to battery life and network performance, and there have been quality issues (MagSafe and iPod Nanos catching fire). Apple’s shine isn’t quite as glossy and this has people asking “what’s next?”.

Business Physics

Microsoft’s Windows juggernaut is collapsing as it tries to support 20 years of applications and becomes more complicated by the minute. Meanwhile, Windows has outgrown hardware and customers are pondering skipping Vista to wait for Windows 7. If Windows is going to remain relevant it will need radical changes.

[From Gartner: Windows collapsing under its own weight; Radical change needed | Between the Lines |]

I’ve been watching the the Microsoft Vista saga unfold with much curiosity, not because I wish them to fail or am enjoying their quagmire status at the moment, but because this is a classic innovators dilemma moment.

Windows has been fantastically successful for Microsoft to date but I don’t think anyone would seriously argue that Vista has met with external or internal expectations, was much later to market than Microsoft would have liked, and in many ways is looking like a dinosaur just before the meteor breaks into the atmosphere.

Ironically, the coolest stuff that Microsoft was planning, like WinFS, are all the things that got dropped as Vista lurched forward to a release data. A lot of people, me included, are looking at Vista and questioning why I need or want it when it requires more hardware, has an irritating security model, and doesn’t have the hardware support that XP has. In other words, if it’s just incrementally better than XP why should I care?

Apparently a lot of people are asking Microsoft to keep XP on store shelves. In a new version of old coke vs. new coke, there is a petition circulating asking Microsoft to Save XP. Currently there are 111,000 signatures on the petition.

While it’s probably easy to point to their screwed up pricing strategy and a less than compelling feature set and steep hardware requirements as primary obstacles, it is far more likely that they need to go back to the drawing board altogether and break apart the server and desktop versions, quit insisting on every DOS program going back to 1984 being compatible, and, please, focus some development resources on building out applications that are included with the OS that are actually useful.

Lastly, Microsoft is going to be toast if they continue on the path of 5 year development cycles. If an automobile manufacturer can go from a concept drawing to design to engineering to manufacturing to dealers in 18 months, why can’t a software publisher? Microsoft has created an impossible position for themselves through their strategy of bringing everything forward with them when business physics would suggest that speed and mass are incompatible attributes without a tremendous amount of horsepower, something that Microsoft, like all companies, has a finite amount of.